Despite Indy Wins, Economic Improvements Are Needed

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The most unexpected part of the 2022 College Football National Playoff Championship host city announcement was not the winning city itself, it was that the winning city – Indianapolis – was not even required to submit a bid. It was invited to host the championship as part of a no-bid selection process. While this success might be surprising to some, it really shouldn’t be.

The fact is, Indianapolis does these big-time sporting events better than any city in the country. And that’s because the list of Indy’s attributes is long: great venues in Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, Lucas Oil Stadium, and the Convention Center; a Georgia Street corridor overhauled for the 2012 Super Bowl, tailor-made for street-level entertainment and event hosting; an accessible downtown that’s clean and safe; a volunteer community that’s second to none; tremendous government support at the state and local levels; an excellent past and present history of leadership at the Indiana Sports Corporation and Capital Improvements Board; and, maybe most importantly, a long track record of hosting these big-time events time and again without any missteps.

To the outsider, Indianapolis might be a touch on the small side as a host city. At the time of the 2012 Super Bowl, the popular notion was Indy secured that event solely as a reward for constructing an expensive, new NFL football stadium. No one would deny Lucas Oil played a big role. But more telling was the city’s actual performance as a host. Reviews were uniformly positive if not glowing. In fact, there’s little doubt if Indianapolis was a warm weather city it would in the same rotation as New Orleans and Phoenix to host Super Bowls on a regular basis.

So we all agree – big group hug – Indianapolis is awesome! But what do we do with this magnificent street cred and parlay it into something bigger and better? We work on our soft spots. We make an aggressive effort to improve our assets so that our event-hosting and corporate attraction efforts are strengthened. Specifically:

More direct flights to and from other major U.S. cities is critical. Underwriting the costs for select destinations until airlines see the business case, as Indy successfully did with San Francisco, is a strategy that can be easily replicated without spending a fortune.

Continuing to invest in its downtown assets is another important element to Indianapolis’ future success. Legislative support to provide the funding tools will continue to be important. Developing other amenities that would make downtown more attractive should be a priority as well.

A renewable resource that can fuel the operating costs for the aforementioned projects needs to be created. The College Football National Championship will require $16 million in largely private donations (the Super Bowl took $25 million). Indianapolis has a tremendously generous and civic-minded community inspired by the legacy and ongoing efforts of Eli Lilly and countless other local businesses. But expecting the corporate network to altruistically subsidize these efforts in perpetuity isn’t sustainable or realistic.

By crafting some of these solutions, the sky’s the limit on the sort of victories Indianapolis can enjoy. Success will require creativity, funding, and a concerted effort on every side of the public-private paradigm.

Tim Cook is chief executive officer and Katie Culp is president of KSM Location Advisors.

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